Bamidbar: Becoming "Ownerless"
(א) וַיְדַבֵּ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֛ה בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר סִינַ֖י בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד בְּאֶחָד֩ לַחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִ֜י בַּשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשֵּׁנִ֗ית לְצֵאתָ֛ם מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לֵאמֹֽר׃
(1) On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying:
(ז) וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל משֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי (במדבר א, א), לָמָּה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, מִכָּאן שָׁנוּ חֲכָמִים בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים נִתְּנָה הַתּוֹרָה, בָּאֵשׁ, וּבַמַּיִם, וּבַמִּדְבָּר. בָּאֵשׁ מִנַּיִן (שמות יט, יח): וְהַר סִינַי עָשַׁן כֻּלּוֹ וגו'. וּבַמַּיִם מִנַּיִן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שופטים ה, ד): גַּם שָׁמַיִם נָטָפוּ גַּם עָבִים נָטְפוּ מָיִם. וּבַמִּדְבָּר מִנַּיִן וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל משֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, וְלָמָּה נִתְּנָה בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הַלָּלוּ, אֶלָּא מָה אֵלּוּ חִנָּם לְכָל בָּאֵי הָעוֹלָם כָּךְ דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה חִנָּם הֵם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה נה, א): הוֹי כָּל צָמֵא לְכוּ לַמַּיִם, דָּבָר אַחֵר, וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל משֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, אֶלָּא כָּל מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה עַצְמוֹ כַּמִּדְבָּר, הֶפְקֵר, אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לִקְנוֹת אֶת הַחָכְמָה וְהַתּוֹרָה, לְכָךְ נֶאֱמַר: בְּמִדְבַּר סִינָי.
(7) "And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness" (Numbers 1:1). Why the Sinai Wilderness? From here the sages taught that the Torah was given through three things: fire, water, and wilderness. How do we know it was given through fire? From Exodus 19:18: "And Mount Sinai was all in smoke as God had come down upon it in fire." How do we know it was given through water? As it says in Judges 5:4, "The heavens dripped and the clouds dripped water [at Sinai]." How do we know it was given through wilderness? [As it says above,] "And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness." And why was the Torah given through these three things? Just as [fire, water, and wilderness] are free to all the inhabitants of the world, so too are the words of Torah free to them, as it says in Isaiah 55:1, "Oh, all who are thirsty, come for water... even if you have no money." Another explanation: "And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness" — Anyone who does not make themselves ownerless like the wilderness cannot acquire the wisdom and the Torah. Therefore it says, "the Sinai Wilderness."
What is the significance of specifying "in the wilderness"?
Describe what that would be like for you.
How would you interpret the meaning of "ownerless"?
What does it mean for you to be ownerless?
(ב) שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ כָּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם בְּמִסְפַּ֣ר שֵׁמ֔וֹת כָּל־זָכָ֖ר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָֽם׃
(2) Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head.
Note that the English translation does not match the Hebrew for the words שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ The exact translation would be: "Raise (or lift up) the heads".
In what ways does the translation change the meaning for you?
How is counting a 'raising up'?
In some communities, it is traditional not to count people:
“Care should be taken not to take a head-count of people to verify whether there is a minyan, because it is forbidden to take a head-count of Jews even for the purpose of a mitzvah. In addition, we are forbidden to ‘count’ for a minyan.”
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Siman 15:3
שאו את ראש בני ישראל . The purpose of the count was to enable the שכינה to take up residence among the Jewish people.
Everyone should become aware of his personal value by having been counted. He was encouraged to think that everything depended on his personal activity and contribution.
This is why the sages have said that a person should always consider himself as if mankind's merits and demerits were in perfect balance, and his very next action would tilt the scales giving him a chance to determine the world's fate. A single good deed by him would enable the world to endure (Kiddushin 40).
Shenei Luchot HaBerit, Torah Shebikhtav, Bamidbar, Nasso, Beha'alotcha,Derekh Chayim, Bamidbar 1
“Seeing the world as God’s world requires stepping out of the egocentric perspective.”
Rabbi Yaakov Haber and David Sedley, Sefiros
a person should view himself as though he were exactly half-liable and half-meritorious. In other words he should act as though the plates of his scale are balanced, so that if he performs one mitzva he is fortunate, as he tilts his balance to the scale of merit. If he transgresses one prohibition, woe to him, as he tilts his balance to the scale of liability, as it is stated: “But one sin destroys much good” (Ecclesiastes 9:18), which means that due to one sin that a person transgresses he squanders much good. Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, says: Since the world is judged by its majority, i.e., depending on whether people have performed a majority of mitzvot or a majority of sins, and an individual is likewise judged by his majority, each person must consider that if he performs one mitzva he is praiseworthy, as he tilts the balance of himself and the entire world to the scale of merit.
How do we rectify this paradox?
How are we "ownerless" and "counted" at the same time?
What does this mean for you? For your community?